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Discovery School at Beechwood offers unique preschool experience

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
The Discovery School at Beechwood Nature Reserve hosted an open house on March 15 in Fox Chapel.

At The Discovery School at Beechwood, students will connect with nature by playing in the rain, hiking along nature trails and listening for bird calls.

Nestled into Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, the preschool set to open in the fall will capitalize on the 134-acre wooded campus by incorporating the outdoorsinto its curriculum.

Director Jessie Handron said the school, for children ages 2 ½ to 5, is a partnership with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

“We believe that providing children the opportunity to freely explore and play outside fosters a lifelong appreciation for our natural world,” Handron said.

Fox Chapel resident Jenna Barbour said it seemed an ideal location to spark a child's natural curiosity about bugs, birds and other living creatures.

“I saw this as a unique opportunity that I couldn't pass up,” Barbour said about her search for a preschool for daughter Lilah, 3. “Having the location at Beechwood will encourage exploring nature and I love that the curriculum is so flexible.”

The half-day program will focus on nature investigations, exploration centers and outdoor play, she said.

Whether the lesson lasts one week or six, children will be immersed in topics through play, “I wonder” questions, research, stories and on-site experts. The kids will also be asked to turn in a story, artwork or other piece showing what they've learned.

In the exploration centers, children will develop team-building skills by using science, building blocks, drama, sensory exploration, arts and literacy as tools.

Handron and others will set up the Bluebird Classroom in the education building along Dorseyville Road this summer. Enrollment is currently open.

She said children will have the opportunity to explore the nature trails and bird habitats every day, rain or shine. Beechwood will serve as an extension of the brick and mortar classroom, where they can look for birds, gather materials and make a nest, or hunt for bugs and use leaves and twigs to create a make-believe insect.

“When we are exploring our senses, we may engage in mud play or walk through the rain and puddles to learn about how senses help us to understand the world around us,” she said.

Fox Chapel resident Meghan Kessing enrolled her son, Tommy, 3, for school this fall.

She believes the program will provide the best opportunity for her child to learn and grow, citing the intimate setting at Beechwood.

“Tommy is your typical rambunctious child, and the small, child-centered setting along with its outdoor space is perfect,” she said.

A professional in the STEM field, Kessing supports project-based learning and said it benefits early development and is also relevant to real-world applications.

“I want the best education and environment for my child and believe that this is a critical stage of their development,” Kessing said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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